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Maine schools move toward proficiency-based assessment

Maine led the nation in 2012 in becoming the first state to require that students demonstrate proficiency in academic areas to earn a high school diploma. (Gettyimages.com: qingwa).
Maine led the nation in 2012 in becoming the first state to require that students demonstrate proficiency in academic areas to earn a high school diploma. (Gettyimages.com: qingwa).

Eighth-graders in Maine in the 2017-18 school year will be the first to adhere to proficiency-based standards. The initiative is the latest implementation phase of a 2012 state law requiring standards-based assessment by 2021.

Under the law, districts have leeway in how to best provide support for students in achieving proficiency.

Students can expect to see accommodations such as freshman summer boot camps to close learning gaps in specific content areas. Others may receive extra instructional support during vacation weeks in March and May.

Students will need to show thorough proficiency in English, math, science and social studies to graduate high school. They also have to master soft skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and communication.

The change is being phased in as the students advance through the upper grades. By 2025, graduates will need to also reach proficiency standards in the arts, health, physical education and a second language.

“What’s really shifting is the threshold for determining whether we award credit or we award a diploma,” says Diana Doiron, the standards-based education specialist for the Maine Department of Education.

Flexible qualifications

The law is also flexible regarding how each district determines what qualifies as demonstrating proficiency.

For example, some districts have moved away from the traditional 100-point scale and letter grades, opting instead for a four-point scale with clear criteria explaining what meets, partially meets or exceeds standards.

The goal now is to ensure all students have the conceptual understanding and skill development required of the standard, rather than just a 70-point average.

To support the transition, content specialists from the Maine Department of Education provide PD throughout the school year. For example, teachers will focus on personalized instruction rather than planning lessons oriented toward an entire class.

The state legislature voted this past July to support the transition with a $162 million increase in education funding over the next two years. While the state’s education funding formula is based on student enrollment, the DOE is still determining exactly how the extra money will be divided among districts.

Maine led the nation in 2012 in becoming the first state to require that students demonstrate proficiency in academic areas to earn a high school diploma. Previously, only select districts in states employed such an approach.